Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Queen's Speech Spells Doom for Grammar Schools

Plans for rules against the creation of new grammar schools in England to be relaxed have been scrapped by the new Tory government.

Theresa May had originally pledged in her election manifesto to undo the law that prohibits new grammar schools to be created, and laid out plans for new ones to be funded. However, after the disappointing election results for the Tories, achieving a minority government in parliament, many election pledges were rumoured to have been slimmed down so as to pass through the House of Commons without that majority.

The Queen's Speech said the government will "look at all options" for opening new schools, but that will not include removing the current ban on expanding selection. The controversial plan to stop free lunches for all infants is also absent.

The government, setting out its plans for the next two years, has not announced any legislation for education. Yet, the re-written plans now call for "every child to go to a good or outstanding school", but with the recognition that any changes will depend upon being able to "command a majority". There were also no plans for a new funding formula put forward in the speech, but it was said that these would be put forward at a later date. Equally, they said technical education would be upgraded.

x Ways Hampstead Blocks Represent May and Corbyn

 The Old New (Labour) Block
  • A relic from the past
  • Was reported to have parts breaking away from it and be prone to collapse, but has survived longer than expected
  • Has more seats than first thought
  • Liked by many students
  • Was knocked down recently and will most likely never be able to form a majority block of its own

The Coalition of (Hallway) Chaos 
  • Has only recently become a prominent feature
  • Has only survived just over a year
  • Has fewer seats than required
  • Has to have an extra building involved to make up the numbers
  • Was first considered to be strong and stable, but may turn out to be weak and wobbly.
  • Hated by many students

Thursday, 8 June 2017

EXCLUSIVE Interview with John Mansook

John Mansook is chairman of the Brent Greens and a fitness trainer. Standing for the Green Party in the Hampstead and Kilburn seat, we caught up with the candidate to ask his views on some of the pressing matters for students and young people in this country.

What’s your pitch to the young people of Hampstead and Kilburn if you get elected?
If I was elected, I would encourage young people to get involved in politics and join political parties to shape them from the inside to better serve our young people and the nation as a whole. When I was a young person, I wasn't taught politics at school and I wasn't even that politically aware, and more so I wasn't aware of how the political system worked. I think young people have access to information about politics and politicians like never before, especially with social media. Therefore, you are in a better position to make a more informed decision not just based on policies but based on character traits such as morality and sincerity. I think that is just as important as voting for people who have good policies. Remember: governments change and therefore the people who govern change and if we want to manage that change for the better, young people need to be involved at every level, not just on the day when they have to put their X on the ballot paper.

According to recent reports, the Green’s policy to scrap all student debt currently held by graduates could cost as much as £76.3bn. How does your party propose to pay for this?
The Green Party policy is to write off all student debt held by the student loans company. Young people should not underestimate the burden of debt. I was of the first Uni generation to pay for my education and year-on-year my fees kept increasing and that is a debt I still carry today. It affects many things I can do, especially as I am from a lower income family. The Greens would plan to pay for this by scrapping High Speed 2 (HS2). The cost of this project alone is creeping into the near £70bn region. Other money-draining projects include scrapping the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Program which cost over £100bn. This amount money can be reinvested in the NHS, education and the social services, which improves the quality of life for us all.

Schools budgets, especially in inner-London are being slashed. What will you do to reverse this damage?
I would fight to scrap big projects like HS2 and use the money to reinvest in schools in the area. HS2 will be coming through Hampstead and Kilburn and its construction alone will be affecting schools significantly.

Do you think there is enough done to raise political awareness in schools?
No, I don't think enough is being done to raise political awareness in schools. The Greens' policy is to ensure politics is part of young peoples' school education. Remember: issues like Brexit will affect young people long before they can vote, so it's important that young people are aware of politics and how the machine works, so that when future issues arise they will remember and make more informed choices for their communities. We don't just vote for ourselves but our wider social circle: friends, family and the community as a whole.

In the interest of impartiality, we will be interviewing as many main-party candidates as possible in the run-up to the election, to hear their views as well. Thanks must go to Mr Mansook for making time for this interview.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Kirsty Allan

Kirsty Allan is the Liberal Democrat candidate, vying for the Hampstead and Kilburn parliamentary seat in the upcoming election. She has previously worked for Lynne Featherstone, the former MP and Minister of State at the Home Office, as well as a fundraiser for the Lib Dems and press director for Normal Lamb's (MP) leadership bid. We caught up with the candidate to ask her views on some of the pressing matters for students and young people in this country.

With the election on the horizon, what would you change about education in the area if you were elected? The Lib Dems have said they are against the Tories’ policy on grammar schools. What are your views on grammar schools? Should the state system be selective or completely comprehensive, or is there a happy medium?
I would like to see our schools properly funded. Ring-fencing the schools budget but not up-rating it as we have seen under the Tories actually means that education funding is falling year on year as inflation grows and that's unacceptable. It's been said many times but education is the silver bullet on so many social issues so making sure our teachers and kids have the resources they need couldn't be more important.

My view is that state education should not be selective. I am incredibly disappointed that the Conservatives are diverting funds into their grammar schools project when our existing schools are so under-resourced. As I've said, many of our current schools are underfunded and need serious investment to bring the buildings up to standard. That money should be going towards giving our teachers the resources they need to provide an excellent education. Additionally, we know that grammar schools tend to favour those from a more affluent background to the disadvantage of those from poorer backgrounds. That's simply not fair. All our children are entitled to a great education, no matter their resources. That is what state education is all about.

Your party has also said that full-time education should not just be about passing exams. What does this mean doing for you?
School needs to be about more than just knowing how to do well in an exam. We need to be preparing our children with life and social skills as well and giving them a well rounded education should include those skills. So much about the world after school including finding a job depends on other factors than just exam results - skills such as organisation, public speaking, a good knowledge of IT and interpersonal skills among others.

Since the Tories took over in 2015 you've worked in the National Audit Office, scrutinising public spending. Did anything strike you as a big waste of money in your time? Or was there not enough being spent? Do you think the Government's current approach to mental health, especially as it concerns young people, is sufficient? What would you change beyond increasing funding?
There is consistently not enough money being invested in our health and social care services, and particularly not enough money in mental health provision. The Lib Dems will add another £1billion for mental health care as part of £6billion of funding for the NHS through putting a penny on income tax. £5million of this would be ring-fenced as dedicated funding for mental health services in Camden, as part of a £20million package of extra NHS funding across the borough. There also needs to be parity in the way that mental health patients are treated. At the moment, physical health is still seen as the priority and yet 1 in 3 people will suffer from poor mental health in their lifetime. We must make sure they are being treated with the same level of importance as if they had a physical condition.

This past week Tim Farron came out and said that he was pro-LGBT rights, and believed the Gay Marriage Act didn't go far enough. What are your views on teaching about LGBT relationships?
I personally think that all children should be learning about relationships generally and that includes LGBT. What we learn in school helps us come to conclusions about what is normal and what's not. What are we saying by ignoring LGBT relationships? By teaching about relationships of all kinds - both mixed sex and same sex - we are telling our young LGBT students that their relationships are just as valued and valid as any others and, to my mind, that is exactly as it should be.

Do you think there is enough done to raise political awareness in schools?
No, and I personally believe that all students should be taught about voting and democracy. We see again and again that young people, once they reach voting age, simply do not vote in the same numbers as other generations and yet decisions are being made about their futures. If young people voted, then they political landscape of the UK would change entirely!

Schools budgets, especially in inner-London are being slashed. What will you do to reverse this damage if elected?
My party has announced that we will invest nearly £7bn more in schools and colleges over the next parliament. The funding would reverse cuts to frontline school and college budgets, protect per pupil funding in real terms and ensure no school loses out from the National FundingFormula.

Over the course of the parliament, we have committed to: protect per pupil funding in real terms in schools (£3.3bn), protect further education per pupil funding in real terms (£660m), ensure no school loses out from the National Funding Formula (£1.26bn), protect the pupil premium in real terms (£415m), invest in continuous professional development for teachers (£165m)

What are your thoughts on the voting age in Britain?
I believe that those aged 16 - 18 should be allowed to vote. After all, we are making decisions about their future.

In coalition, the Lib Dems were partly responsible for the tripling of tuition fees. If elected, what would you do with tuition fees? Why should students trust Liberal Democrat candidates?
Both Labour and the Conservatives supported higher fees, and as we did not win the General Election we could not deliver our promise. Scrapping fees was a commitment we made with the best of intentions but we broke our promise on tuition fees and that rightly provoked a lot of anger, because many people felt let down by the party that has always put principles above politics. We made a mistake committing to a policy that, in coalition, we weren't able to deliver. We've been honest in owning up to that. The punishment we took at the last elections was a bitter pill to swallow, but the message was heard loud and clear.

Unlike others, we don't take people's trust for granted, we know that trust has to be earned, and we've worked hard to restore that by fighting to make our society work for everyone, whether it's protecting the NHS, making sure children get the best possible education, or standing up against the destructive effects of Brexit. Should I be elected as MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, I hope that my hard work and dedication would show how much I value the trust placed in me by my constituents.

Despite the fact that we weren't able to scrap tuition fees, we are proud that we made sure the system we got is as fair as possible – more new students and more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are now going to university backgrounds than ever before. To we want to make sure that we don't go back to a system where numbers are capped.

In the interest of impartiality, we will be interviewing as many main-party candidates as possible in the run-up to the election, to hear their views as well. Thanks must go to Ms Allan for making time for this interview.

Monday, 5 June 2017

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Tulip Siddiq

Tulip Siddip MP has been the Labour Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn for the past two years since she was elected in 2015. Vying for the seat again, we caught up with the Labour candidate to ask her views on some of the pressing matters for students and young people in this country.

In your two years as an MP, what have you done for students and young people in Hampstead and Kilburn? If re-elected, what do you hope to do?
I have been extremely proud to represent young people in Hampstead and Kilburn over the past two years. I have called to have the voting age to be extended to 16-17 year olds, I have campaigned against cuts to schools, I have argued against increases to tuition fees, and I have campaigned for investment in apprenticeships and local community centres. The opportunities of future generations have been limited under this Government, and if re-elected, I am determined to continue campaigning on their behalf.

Schools budgets, especially in inner-London are being slashed. What will you do to reverse this damage?
In Camden, schools are facing cuts of around £690 per pupil, and in Brent, the figure stands at around £650. This is totally unacceptable, and will mean increased class sizes and teachers being laid off. In one school in our area, headteachers are even asking pupils to fill empty tubes of Smarties with 20p coins to fundraise for the school. It shouldn't have to be like this, and if re-elected I will demand that sate schools are properly funded.

What are your views on grammar schools? Should the state system be selective or completely comprehensive, or is there a happy medium?
I believe parents should have the widest possible choice of education for their children, so a healthy mix of institutions is the best for achieving that. However the Government has to prioritise spending at a time when budgets are squeezed, and I believe it is appalling to allocate hundreds of millions of pounds on grammar schools at a time when comprehensives are struggling to afford basic materials. The purpose of education is to increase social mobility and to reduce inequality. By cutting for the many and spending on the select few - the Government have abandoned that purpose.

Recently a cross-party committee denounced the government's free schools programme as ‘incoherent’ and ‘poor value for money’. What is your policy on free schools? Should we encourage them or is the money better spent elsewhere?
Again, I support parents having a range of educational institutions to choose from when planning their child's future. However, a fixation on one type of institution is unfolding at the expense of others, and this has been the case with free schools. A key finding within the report was that the Government is wasting billions on building free schools where they are simply not needed. It is my view that a schools building framework that benefits all areas across England is not beyond our grasp. It is simply a matter of introducing the proper safeguards, ditching ideological obsessions, and having fair priorities.

Do you think there is enough done to raise political awareness in schools? I think teachers do a fantastic job of engaging pupils throughout the key moments in the political calendar. It's hard to ask for more formal 'awareness raising', not least as teachers have to balance these efforts with the curriculum and other duties. However, there remains a huge challenge in increasing teenagers' participation in politics, and I believe it is the challenge facing civic institutions everywhere to encourage them to truly understand the importance of voting.

Authority on the construction and design of Hampstead’s new school building was supposedly seized from the school by Camden Council. The construction and transition have been massively disruptive, and the building itself has numerous major shortcomings. Do you think students and parents should trust a Labour council?Over the past two years, I have taken on thousands of cases - many of which were complaints over planning applications and proposed developments. In all of those cases, even when they are extremely critical of the council, I have always ensured that residents have been given the best possible chance of having their case settled. Since 2010, Camden Council has experienced huge cuts - of up to £100m - from central Government. I believe they do a great job under difficult circumstances, and I would always argue that local people are better off under a Labour-run council.

You resigned from your role as Shadow Education Minister and defied Jeremy Corbyn's three-line whip for the sake of voting against a bill to trigger Article 50, even though it was highly unlikely that the bill would fail. Do you feel that you prioritised your image over accepting the inevitable? Do you feel this action may have compromised your capacity to campaign for Corbyn nationally as well as yourself locally?In the EU referendum, over 75% of local residents voted to remain in the European Union. As their Member of Parliament, I am responsible for representing their views in Parliament. It would have been entirely unforgivable for me to vote for Article 50, as it would have betrayed the people who sent me to Westminster, and would have betrayed my staunchly pro-European views.

I do not accept that there is anything inevitable about the course the Government have chosen to take on Brexit. They are pursuing a hard Brexit, with no guarantees for local European residents or for local jobs. My decision to resign from my role was done in order to give the loudest possible opposition to this course. I have no regrets about doing so, and I have no regrets over disagreeing with my party on this issue. Residents can expect more of the same if I am re-elected in June.

What are your thoughts on the voting age in Britain?It should be reduced to 16.

Do you think the Government's current approach to mental health, especially as it concerns young people, is sufficient? What would you change beyond increasing funding?
At least 6,700 mental health nurses and doctors have been cut from the NHS in England since 2010. The Government have started to catch up with the idea that this is a pressing people for young people, but their actions send out the entirely wrong message. Beyond giving mental health professionals and services the funds that they need, Labour would also ensure that mental health receives parity of esteem within the framework of our NHS. Far too often, mental health issues are trivialised and made to feel secondary to physical health. Particularly for young people affected, this is completely unacceptable and I am proud to be in a party that takes a strong line on this.

The past 15 years have seen many radical reforms and major policy changes in education, many of them untried before their introduction. Do you think it’s fair for governments to change education policy so frequently?
No, I do not think it's fair. Over the past seven years, the burden on teachers and parents has been there for all to see, due to repeated changes to the curriculum and reductions in funding. A period of calm and sustainable funding would be extremely welcome.

Labour have been characterised as a weak opposition to the current Tory government, allowing sweeping new legislation to pass with relative ease, most importantly radical education reform. What can you promise to reassure young voters about their educational futures?When the Governing party has a majority in the Commons, it is extremely difficult for an opposition to challenge their policy programme - including on issues such as education. That is why it is important to elect Labour MPs who will provide the strongest possible voice for our area in Parliament. Not only will we give you a voice in the corridors of power, but we will ensure that such a voice gives people far more hope than we have seen under the Conservatives.

Labour have promised that, if elected, Educational Maintenance Allowance for low-income families and the University Maintenance Grant would be reintroduced, as well as giving every primary school child free school meals. How does your party propose we pay for all this?All of our policy proposals are fully costed and the detail can be found in our manifesto!

Sexting is reportedly widespread amongst young people at the moment. Do you think new legislation is necessary to address both the privacy and safety issues with this trend?Sexting among children is skyrocketing, with children as young as 13 starting to use dating and hook-up apps. Far more needs to be done to equip young people with the resilience and knowledge they need to stay healthy and safe in relationships both off and online, and to spot the signs and feel confident to report manipulation and exploitation.

Many young people feel that none of the major political parties represent them. What would you say to them?It is hard to think of a time when the main political parties in this country have been so distinct. I would say to all young people to look carefully at what each party is proposing, and see whether they have your best interests at heart. It is my view, of course, that a Labour Government will do more for young people than any other party.

In the interest of impartiality, we will be interviewing as many main-party candidates as possible in the run-up to the election, to hear their views as well. Thanks must go to Ms Siddiq for making time for this interview.